Carbon Bill could hurt agriculture businesses

Regional opposition to a proposed cap-and-trade carbon bill in the Oregon Legislature has not been about the reality of climate change but about whether impacts to rural and agricultural interests are fair or reasonable.

Joining the opposition, the Grant County Court agreed Feb. 17 to send a letter to the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction in the Oregon Legislature expressing their concerns with House Bill 2020.

“We are very concerned about the impact HB 2020 will have on our agricultural and rural communities,” the court said. “The Grant County Court is opposed to HB 2020 and we urge an exemption for agriculture from the cap in any version of the bill moving forward.”

Attached were letters from Ken and Pat Holliday and from the Grant County Farm Bureau.

The Hollidays expressed concern about impacts cap-and-trade legislation would have on agriculture and rural communities, particularly increasing the cost of fuel for vehicles.

Oregon legislature

“As a cattle ranch involved in production agriculture, fuel is essential to operate tractors, trucks and equipment required to conduct our business,” they wrote.

The Hollidays noted that dyed-diesel, which is only allowed in agricultural equipment and not on vehicles that use highways, will be included under the carbon cap in the house bill.

“In order to truly exempt farms and ranches from a cap-and-trade system, the on-road diesel used in farm vehicles must also be exempt from the cap in any version of the bill going forward,” they said.

The Hollidays said cattle ranchers “know firsthand the potential impacts climate change can bring to their agricultural operations,” but they noted that HB 2020 “will not protect Oregonians from catastrophic forest fires, drought and the global impact of CO2 creation.”

The Grant County Farm Bureau asked the committee to recognize the positive contributions made by agriculture toward reducing carbon dioxide output and protecting habitat in rural areas and asked that agriculture-related activities be excluded from the HB 2020 regulations.

“Quite simply, while everyone else has been philosophizing about sequestering carbon and reducing their carbon footprint, we have been quietly studying, designing and applying adaptive management techniques with our agency and university partners to implement what everyone else is merely theorizing,” the bureau said.

The bureau noted that higher costs resulting from HB 2020 “seriously risks destabilizing our current land tenure and production operations, which are already threatened by an aging population, lack of producer recruitment and competition from outside, monied interests.”

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, told the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association at their Dec. 1 convention in Bend that the cap-and-trade carbon bill’s goal is to reduce state carbon dioxide emissions from 55 million tons per year to 10 million over 30 years, but the savings amount to only 0.125 percent of global emissions.

“This will not resolve climate issues,” he said.

With Democrats holding a super-majority in the Legislature, Bentz felt sure a cap-and-trade bill will pass. On Jan. 25, he told lawmakers that his party wants to avoid economic hardships while addressing the issue of climate change.

“This bill has enormous costs caught up in it,” he said. “The value of this bill is its ability to convince other people to follow Oregon’s lead. And this means we have to get it right. It’s not going to save the world. What saves the world is other people saying, ‘Hey, Oregon figured out how to do it.’”

In a floor speech on March 4, Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, called for a full exemption for the agricultural sector from HB 2020.

“When our farmers and ranchers compete within a market place with producers who do not have to deal with carbon taxes, credits or allowances, Oregon producers will always lose,” he said.

Findley noted that the costs of running a farm have already significantly increased. Facing thin profit margins, farmers will not be able to handle being strapped with an additional financial burden, he said.

“We should be looking for ways to help our farming and ranching community, not place them at a disadvantage within the market place,” he said. “Farmers and ranchers in Eastern Oregon are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their operations for future generations.”

In an earlier floor speech, Findley warned that carbon costs caused by the cap-and-trade carbon bill could make Ash Grove Cement in Baker County less competitive than cement plants in China, which do not operate under the environmental, safety, labor, fuel and raw material regulations that Ash Grove must follow.

“Unintended consequences of this policy will be a net increase in global emission,” he said, as cement produced in China will produce much more carbon dioxide.

If the Ash Grove plant closes, Baker and Malheur counties could lose 600 jobs, Findley said. In another floor speech, Findley noted that EP Minerals might move its plant in Malheur County to Nevada to avoid carbon caps and costs, eliminating 123 jobs in one of the state’s most impoverished counties.

“We must do no harm to existing business, understand the economic impacts of this law, and not destroy the ability for Oregon businesses to compete,” he said. “The social and economic impacts must be considered along with appropriate science in the development of future carbon policies. Rural economies are extremely fragile and any reduction of employment diversity, such as this, is very significant.”

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